Mental health on the go: Reducing anxiety with smartphone app

Playing a science-based mobile gaming app for 25 minutes can reduce anxiety in stressed individuals, according to research published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.The study suggests that “gamifying” a scientifically-supported intervention could offer measurable mental health and behavioral benefits for people with relatively high levels of anxiety.”Millions of people suffering from psychological distress fail to seek or receive mental health services. A key factor here is that many evidence-based treatments are burdensome — time consuming, expensive, difficult to access, and perceived as stigmatizing,” says lead researcher Tracy Dennis of Hunter College.”Given this concerning disparity between need and accessibility of services, it is crucial for psychological researchers to develop alternative treatment delivery systems that are more affordable, accessible, and engaging.”That’s where the mobile app comes in.The game is based on an emerging cognitive treatment for anxiety called attention-bias modification training (ABMT). Essentially, this treatment involves training patients to ignore a threatening stimulus (such as an angry face) and to focus instead on a non-threatening stimulus (such as a neutral or happy face). This type of training has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress among people suffering from high anxiety.In the study, about 75 participants — who all scored relatively high on an anxiety survey — were required to follow two characters around on the screen, tracing their paths as quickly and accurately as possible.After playing the game for either 25 or 45 minutes, the participants were asked to give a short speech to the researchers while being recorded on video — an especially stressful situation for these participants.The videos revealed that participants who played the ABMT-based version of the game showed less nervous behavior and speech during their talk and reported less negative feelings afterward than those in the placebo group.”Even the ‘short dosage’ of the app — about 25 minutes — had potent effects on anxiety and stress measured in the lab,” explains Dennis, who co-authored the study with Laura O’Toole of The City University of New York. “This is good news in terms of the potential to translate these technologies into mobile app format because use of apps tends to be brief and ‘on the go.'”The researchers are currently investigating whether even shorter stints of play — similar to how we normally play other smartphone games — would have the same anxiety-reducing effect.”We’re examining whether use of the app in brief 10-minute sessions over the course of a month successfully reduces stress and promotes positive birth outcomes in moderately anxious pregnant women,” Dennis says.While it’s unclear whether this app would produce mental health benefits in those with clinically-diagnosed anxiety, it does present a compelling case for gamified ABMT acting as a “cognitive vaccine” against anxiety and stress. The researchers believe that apps could eventually be developed to assist in the treatment for other mental health disorders, such as depression or addiction.”Gamifying psychological interventions successfully could revolutionize how we treat mental illness and how we view our own mental health. Our hope is to develop highly accessible and engaging evidence-based mobile intervention strategies that can be used in conjunction with traditional therapy or that can be ‘self-curated’ by the individual as personal tools to promote mental wellness,” Dennis concludes.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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First-time mom looking for in-hospital breech catcher

I received a request from a first-time mom looking for a CNM or OB willing to attend a vaginal breech birth. She lives in Pittsburgh but is willing to relocate, if necessary, if her baby remains breech at term. Please email me if you have any recommendations!~~~~~I am 33 weeks pregnant (first child), and the baby has been breech since 23/24 weeks. I’m doing all of the spinning babies exercises, and planning to do acupuncture, as well as seeing an OB whom my midwives referred me to to discuss an external version. (I am seeing a group of CNMs with a freestanding birth center, but they don’t deliver breech or VBAC, and neither does anyone else in the city do breech deliveries voluntarily, as far as I …

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Gathering ‘wild’ food in the city: rethinking the role of foraging in urban ecosystem planning, management

Published today, these exploratory studies point to the importance for planners, managers and scholars to understand urban green spaces as not only providers of services, but also providers of material products.In the USA, influential landscape architects of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as Frederick Law Olmsted and his student Charles Eliot, advocated the creation of networks of urban parks connected to each other and, through river corridors, to green spaces beyond the boundaries of urban settlements. These planners argued that public spaces with large amounts of vegetation were essential elements of healthy, functional cities. These new landscapes emphasized aesthetics, relaxation, recreation, and refuge, reinforcing emerging notions about which human–nature interactions belonged in the city and which in the country.Productive practices were defined as rural and, therefore, inappropriate inside the city and city parks. Thus, cities such as Columbus, Ohio materially and discursively erased subsistence gardening and rules prohibiting foraging in parks became commonplace (McLain et al.) Further, development and maintenance of the great urban parks demanded centralization and professionalization of their care. Decision-making powers and management authority were vested in municipal governments and professional park managers.With the popularization of the concept of sustainable development in the late 1980s, planners saw the need for community involvement. They began to experiment with green space policies that explicitly seek to integrate social, economic, and ecological concerns in urban environments, recognizing and incorporating interstitial, raw, or ‘feral’ lands into park creation and protection. Such places, including the street trees and other vegetation that characterize these spaces, are important for meeting the community and ecosystem needs of low income urban neighborhoods that do not have large expanses of undeveloped land or existing parks. These shifts in the conceptualization of urban nature and human roles in it have, to some extent, created openings for the return of productive practices such as farming, horticulture and bee-keeping to public green spaces. However, urban foraging has received little attention in by planners of urban green spacesToday, foragers in this unique study In Baltimore, Seattle, NYC and Philadelphia ranged from less than 5 years in Baltimore to more than 80 years in Seattle. Income levels varied widely ranging from less than US$10,000 to more than US$250,000 and ethnic and racial diversity is common. …

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Asbestos is The Way of Life for Russian Mountain Population

It is unbelievable that there is a place in today’s world where a person’s daily routine could involve shaking asbestos dust off laundry hanging on a clothesline or sweeping asbestos dust out of a window sill to let in the morning light. In the eastern slopes of Russia’s Ural Mountains, such a place does in fact exist.In the recent New York Times article, City in Russia Unable to Kick Asbestos Habit, author Andrew Kramer gives a detailed description of life in the mountain city of Asbest. With a population of 70,000, Asbest is home to the largest open pit asbestos mine in the world. The mine it is about half the size of Manhattan and descends about 1,000 feet down into the earth. The city’s anthem is, “Asbestos, …

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Maya decapitated and dismembered their enemies

Sep. 10, 2013 — Researchers of the Department of Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn have discovered a mass grave in an artificial cave in the historical Maya city of Uxul (Mexico). Marks on the bones indicate that the individuals buried in the cave were decapitated and dismembered around 1,400 years ago. The scientists assume that the victims were either prisoners of war or nobles from Uxul itself.For the last five years, archaeologists of the department of Anthropology of the Americas of the University of Bonn have been excavating in the historical Maya city of Uxul in Campeche (Mexico) with the aim of researching the origins and the collapse of regional states in the Maya lowlands. The project headed by Prof. Dr. Nikolai Grube and Dr. Kai Delvendahl from the University of Bonn, as well as Dr. Antonio Benavides from the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, which is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has now made a sensational find: they have uncovered the skeletons of 24 people in an approximately 32 square meter artificial cave that had formerly been used as a water reservoir.”Aside from the large number of interred individuals, it already became apparent during the excavation that the skeletons were no longer in their original anatomical articulation,” says the archaeologist Nicolaus Seefeld, who studied the sophisticated water supply system of Uxul for his doctoral thesis and discovered the mass grave. All of the skulls were lying scattered around the interior of the cave, in no relation to the rest of the bodies. …

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Key factors in understanding differences in rates of birth defects identified

July 4, 2013 — New research published in The Lancet highlights important information for health professionals and parents about the factors which may increase the likelihood of a baby being born with a birth defect.The findings, from researchers at the Universities of Bradford and Leeds, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), confirm that the two main factors associated with an increased risk of babies being born with a birth defect are being born to an older mother or to parents who are blood relations.In addition, the research team was also able to confirm that socio-economic status (levels of deprivation) had no effect on the relative risk of birth defects, despite two-thirds of the mothers participating in the study coming from the most deprived fifth of the British population. The data also showed that higher levels of maternal education halved the risk of having a baby with a defect across all ethnic groups.It has been known for some time that birth defects, also known as congenital anomalies, are a major cause of infant mortality and that their incidence varies across ethnic groups in the UK. Other studies in the last 20 years have considered consanguinity (marriage to a blood relation), as a cause of birth defects, but these studies weren’t able to rule out other potential risk factors, particularly the effects of deprivation.Geneticist and lead author Dr Eamonn Sheridan, from the University of Leeds, says: “It is important to note that the vast majority of babies born to couples who are blood relatives are absolutely fine, and whilst consanguineous marriage increases the risk of birth defect from 3% to 6%, the absolute risk is still small.”The study, funded by the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) for Leeds, York and Bradford, and the largest of its type ever conducted, examined detailed information collected about more than 11,300 babies involved in the Born in Bradford (BiB) project, a unique long term study which is following the health of babies who were born in the city at the Bradford Royal Infirmary between 2007 and 2011. The research team found that the overall rate of birth defects in the BiB babies was approximately 3% — nearly double the national rate.Each year, approximately 1.7% of babies in England and Wales are born with a birth defect (for example heart or lung problems or recognised Syndromes such as Down’s), which may be life-limiting. These disorders occur as a result of complex interactions between genetic and environmental factors, or because of damage done by infections such as rubella and cytomegalovirus.While the BiB cohort includes a total of 43 different ethnicities, the largest ethnic groups were Pakistani (45%) and White British (just under 40%).In the Pakistani subgroup, 77% of babies born with birth defects were to parents who were in consanguineous marriages. In the White British subgroup 19% of babies with an anomaly were born to mothers over the age of 34. Links between the age of mothers and the prevalence of birth defects are already well-established.It is estimated that more than a billion people worldwide live in in communities where consanguineous marriage is commonplace.The Bradford/Leeds study is the first that has been able to explore the potential causes of birth defects in a population where there are enough numbers in both consanguineous and non-consanguineous groups to reach reliable and statistically significant conclusions.Professor Neil Small, co-author of the study from the University of Bradford, says: “The research is of particular importance to Bradford, because of the characteristics of its population. Half the babies born in the city’s one maternity hospital have a parent whose family origins are in Pakistan. But the findings also have relevance to other areas of the UK and across the world in countries where consanguineous marriage is a cultural norm.”In Bradford, there are initiatives that seek to raise community awareness and services such as genetic counselling and testing in place that can be accessed by couples who are married or considering marriage to a blood relative. It is not our intention to counsel couples about who they choose to marry. …

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Realistic robot carp created: First robot fish with autonomous 3-D movement in Asia

June 26, 2013 — A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering has developed a robot fish that mimics the movements of a carp. This robot which is essentially an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is ready for applications, as it can be programmed to perform specific functions, for example, for underwater archaeology such as exploring nooks and corners of wreckage — or sunken city which are difficult for divers or traditional AUVs to access. Other applications include military activities, pipeline leakage detection, and the laying of communication cable.The team comprises Professor Xu Jianxin, Mr Fan Lupeng, graduating Electrical Engineering student and Research Fellow, Dr Ren Qinyuan. Mr Fan worked on the project for his final year which won the High Achievement Award at the Faculty’s 27th Innovation and Research Award. It will also be featured at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, a top international conference on intelligent robots, in Tokyo on 3-7 November 2013.Said Prof Xu, “Currently, robot fish capable of 2-D movements are common, meaning that these models are not able to dive into the water. Our model is capable of 3-D movements as it can dive and float, using its fins like a real fish. Compared to traditional AUVs, they are certainly more mobile, with greater manoeuvrability. If used for military purpose, fish robots would definitely be more difficult to detect by the enemy.”Fish robots are also quieter and consume less energy, compared to traditional AUVs. Said Mr Fan who studied the movements of real life carps for three months, in order to develop their robot, “We chose to study carps because most fish swim like them. There is no literature at all on designing a mathematical model on the locomotion of fish and so we had to start from scratch. …

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City slicker or country bumpkin: City-life changes blackbird personalities

June 19, 2013 — The origins of a young animal might have a significant impact on its behaviour later on in life. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, have been able to demonstrate in hand-reared blackbirds that urban-born individuals are less curious and more cautious about new objects than their country counterparts. This study sheds light on an interesting debate on whether personality differences between rural and urban birds are behavioural adjustments to urban environments, or if there is an underlying evolutionary basis to the existence of different personalities in urban habitats.It’s something pet owners have always known: animals have personalities too. More than 100 species have so far been identified by scientists where individuals consistently follow distinct behavioural strategies and behave in similar ways in a variety of situations. Scientists believe that such differences may also be important in adapting to new habitats.Urbanization has considerably changed the living conditions of many wild animals. Animals living in urban areas need to cope with new anthropogenically-altered living conditions. A textbook example is the European blackbird (Turdus merula). Historically a forest-dweller, the blackbird is now one of the most common bird species found in our cities. In these new habitats, the blackbird has changed its behaviour in many ways: urban blackbirds migrate less in the winter, breed earlier, and live in higher densities than their forest conspecifics.Cities might be also responsible for fundamental changes in the behaviour of wild animals across the globe. A team from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell analysed existing studies on differences between urban and rural populations of various species. …

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Evolution shapes new rules for ant behavior, research finds

May 15, 2013 — In ancient Greece, the city-states that waited until their own harvest was in before attacking and destroying a rival community’s crops often experienced better long-term success.

It turns out that ant colonies that show similar selectivity when gathering food yield a similar result. The latest findings from Stanford biology Professor Deborah M. Gordon’s long-term study of harvester ants reveal that the colonies that restrain their foraging except in prime conditions also experience improved rates of reproductive success.

Importantly, the study provides the first evidence of natural selection shaping collective behavior, said Gordon, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

A long-held belief in biology has posited that the amount of food an animal acquires can serve as a proxy for its reproductive success. The hummingbirds that drink the most nectar, for example, stand the best chance of surviving to reproduce.

But the math isn’t always so straightforward. The harvester ants that Gordon studies in the desert in southeast Arizona, for instance, have to spend water to obtain water: an ant loses water while foraging, and obtains water from the fats in the seeds it eats.

The ants use simple positive feedback interactions to regulate foraging activity. Foragers wait near the opening of the nest, and bump antennae with ants returning with food. The faster outgoing foragers meet ants returning with seeds, the more ants go out to forage. (Last year, Gordon, Katie Dektar, an undergraduate, and Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science and of electrical engineering at Stanford, showed that the ants’ “Anternet” algorithm follows the same rules as the protocols that regulate data traffic congestion in the Internet).

Colonies differ, however, in how they use these interactions to regulate foraging. Some colonies are likely to forage less when conditions are dry. These same, more successful colonies are also more likely to forage more steadily when conditions are good.

Gordon found that it’s more important for the ants to not waste water than to forage for every last piece of food. There’s no survival cost to this strategy, even though the colonies sometimes forgo foraging for an entire day. Instead, not only do the colonies that hunker down on the bad days live just as long as those that go all out, they also have more offspring colonies.

“Natural selection is not favoring the behavior that sends out the most ants to get the most food, but instead regulating foraging to hold back when conditions are bad,” Gordon said. “This is natural selection shaping a collective behavior exhibited by the entire colony.”

Gordon’s group is still investigating how the ants gauge humidity, but they have determined that the collective response of the colony to conditions is heritable from parent colony to offspring colony. Even though a daughter queen will establish her new colony so far from the parent colony that the two colonies will never interact, the offspring colonies resemble parent colonies in their sensitivity to conditions.

Although the foraging activity of the offspring colonies and the parent colony didn’t entirely match up on all days, they were similar on extreme days: parent and offspring colonies made similar judgments about when to lie low or take advantage of ideal conditions.

While the region has experienced 10 to 15 years of protracted drought, and the more restrained colonies will most likely fare better reproductively as that trend continues, Gordon can’t yet say whether the emphasis on sustainability evolved in response to climate change pressures.

“What’s evolving here are simple rules for how ants participate in a network that regulates the collective behavior of the colony,” she said.

The work is published in the May 16 issue of the journal Nature.

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